When I was a kid, my mom would brown up some ground beef, put it in a casserole dish and top it with a can of creamed corn and some mashed potatoes and call it Shepherd's Pie. I grew up hating Shepherd's Pie. It was bland. Even my step mother made it exactly the same way. I have tried over the years to figure out where this variation on a classic Shepherd's Pie comes from with no luck. I suppose its a New England/northeastern thing.
It was years later when I realized you can actually layer flavors into a Shepherd's Pie and not used the dreaded creamed corn can, and since then I've grown to like it. Typically, I've done mine with peas. Probably because I loved when my Grandmother would make me mashed potatoes and I'd put my buttered peas on top. My husband is not a fan of peas, so when I started cooking for him, I switched back to corn (regular though) and started adding mushrooms and a gravy to give it a little wetness. I also like to layer some flavors into the beef by browning the beef with sauteed onions and garlic.
I remembered that I still had some Porcini mushrooms in my pantry. So I got them soaking and when I browned the beef, I diced the mushrooms and added them into the base. But then I also decided to use the mushroom water as the base for my gravy. I use a product called Bistro. I first discovered it at the British foods storewhen we lived in Vienna . I believe I've seen it a few times at the local grocery store here in the US. If your grocery store has an international aisle just check the British foods section.
For the mashed potatoes, really just use whatever recipe you love best. Personally, I love red skinned potatoes with the skins left on. I boil them, then mash them with butter, salt and pepper, some sour cream and a touch of whole milk. I don't know any measurements for anything, I do it all to taste. If you have a recipe you love for mashed potatoes, use that. Or if you're feeling particularly rushed that night and want to whip up some instant mashed potatoes, I won't judge you. They won't be very tasty (IMO), but if that's what you like, then rock on! When I did weight watchers, I loved those things. Mashed potatoes for only about 2 WW points? Sign me up!
The result was really the best ever. The earthiness of the mushroom gravy brought it to another level. Even Nico, who really isn't the biggest fan of Shepherd's Pie, went back for seconds. And brought the left overs to work for lunch today. He said if I make it like this from now on, we can have it more often. Considering both of my kids ate it up like it was an actual pie, I think we just may! When my three year old heard we were having "pie" for dinner, she could not contain her excitement. Then it came out of the oven and her face just fell. But all through dinner she kept saying, "mmm, this is a really yummy dinner, mom!" Sounds like a winner to me.
Porcini Mushroom Shepherd's Pie
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup water until soft
1 cup frozen vegetables of your choice (I used corn and peas, because that's what I had)
1 tablespoon Bistro powder
2-3 cups mashed potatoes
In a large skillet, saute onions over medium heat in the olive oil until they are soft. Add the garlic and cook about one minute until fragrant. Add the ground beef to the pan and gently use your spoon to break it up. Cook until all the pink is gone.
Remove the porcini mushrooms from the water and reserve the water. Ring out the excess water then transfer to a cutting board to chop into a small dice. Add to the beef mixture. Add in the frozen vegetables and stir to combine.
Add the bistro powder to the reserved mushroom water and stir until dissolved. Pour into the beef mixture and stir until the sauce thickens.
Transfer beef mixture to a casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes. I like to top my mashed potatoes with some melted butter so they get nice and crispy on top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
* While I am not a fan of canned creamed corn, I would use fresh creamed corn in this dish in a heartbeat.